When you think of ADA compliance, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? You might think this refers only to measures like ramps for wheelchair accessibility, but ADA compliance isn’t limited to brick and mortar locations. In fact, an ADA-compliant website is more important now than ever before.
What does it mean to be ADA compliant?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It includes measures to ensure they have equitable access to employment possibilities, the purchasing of goods and services, and the ability to participate in State and local government programs.
ADA regulations apply to all state and local government agencies as well as businesses with 15 or more employees. If this applies to you, then pay close attention: employers that fail to meet ADA’s standards are liable to be sued.
Beyond in-person regulations, ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design states that all electronic and information technology (like websites) must be accessible to people with disabilities. This is a more recent addition to the ADA, released by the US Department of Justice in 2010.
These standards include strict guidelines for text, images, navigation, language, tools, and more. Your website must meet these standards to ensure it is ADA-compliant and accessible to people with disabilities.
Why is ADA compliance important?
So besides the fact that it’s the law, why should you care about following ADA standards? Failing to meet these standards opens you up to fines, bad press, and even potential lawsuits. You may also lose sales from potential customers simply because they can’t easily use your website.
Beyond these negatives, consider the advantages of having a streamlined, easily-accessible website. A well-designed digital experience for disabled customers can increase your sales and boost your search engine results. Considering how simple it can be to comply with ADA guidelines, it would be foolish to ignore them.
If your organization qualifies for ADA compliance, it’s in your best interest to conduct regular audits of your content. This is the best way to ensure your website is keeping up with ADA Standards and Web Content Accessibility guidelines, which will improve the accessibility of your content as well as the engagement it is likely to receive.
In fact, ADA compliant websites have higher sales conversion rates than those that are not ADA compliant. This has a direct impact on how the content ranks in SEO and community engagement forums. In other words, having an accessible website has the potential to improve your reach across all audiences.
The US Department of Justice, which is in charge of setting the ADA’s standards for compliance, monitors all businesses. People with disabilities who feel that you did not work to make your services accessible to them can file a complaint. These complaints can escalate to the courts and result in fines as high as $150,000.
There are some gray areas when it comes to digital enforcement of the ADA, but customers are always watching. Even if you don’t fear legal consequences, running an accessible website and business is vital for connecting with your customer base.
What does an ADA compliant site look like and how do you set one up?
If you’ve made it this far in the article, you must understand the importance of maintaining an accessible business website. So how can you know if you are meeting the ADA’s standards? Let’s walk through how to check your website for ADA compliance.
The first step is to self-audit your website to identify areas that don’t meet the ADA’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Create a checklist for yourself to track any and all accessibility issues you come across.
Here are a few common issues to look out for:
- Missing captions on videos – Any form of multimedia content should include captions.
- Hard-to-find menus – Links, menus, and other forms of site navigation should be predictably located.
- Media without alt text – All images, videos, and similar content should include alt text.
- Auto-playing media – Remove any autoplay feature on embedded videos and audio files.
- Vague hyperlinks – Text should be descriptive and informative, like “Read Our Story” instead of simply “About.”
Learning the reasons for these updates may help you understand their importance. There are four main categories of accessibility issues, forming the acronym P.O.U.R.
- Perceivable issues refer to anything that affects one’s ability to process information from your website. A good example of an accessible solution to this issue is a video that includes audio descriptions.
- Operable issues refer to physical concerns like navigating a website. In order to be ADA compliant, it should be possible to explore your site using keyboard-only commands.
- Understandable issues refer to anything that affects your audience’s comprehension of information on your website. Any error messages, for example, should be clear and concise with a description of the error and potential solutions.
- Robust issues are more abstract, but broadly refer to your preparedness and willingness to accommodate needs of visitors with disabilities and the ever-evolving means of addressing these needs. An example of this would be ensuring your website is compatible with screen readers (a device useful to people who are blind or visually impaired).
Beyond these unique features and tools, ADA compliance also includes guidance for any content on your website. Here are a few examples:
- Structure – Proper formatting and hierarchy (e.g., using H1 and H2 functions for titles and subtitles) is vital to ensure individuals with screen readers can access your content.
- Readability – Any text on your site should be clear and concise. Short sentences, bulleted lists, bolded or highlighted key words and phrases, and left-aligned text are all important guidelines.
- Hyperlinks – Any hyperlinks you use should include descriptive text about the link rather than simply “Click Here” or similar.
- Accessible files – Any PDFs or other documents embedded in your site should be accessible.
- Videos – Any videos on your site should include subtitles, transcripts, and audio description.
- Images – Always include alt text, which is a clear, neutral description of the image’s contents.
- Color – Don’t rely on color alone to convey information. Consider patterns, borders, icons, and other means to ensure people with color blindness can access all the information on your website.
- Fonts – Sans serif fonts like Arial and Helvetica are the easiest to read, and you should use as few fonts as possible. A 12-point font should be the absolute minimum size you use, and you should use bold phrases for emphasis rather than italics.
The full checklist of the ADA’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is extensive, but don’t let yourself become overwhelmed. Fisherman provides the tools you need to create a wholly accessible website.
How can ADA compliance help your customers and business?
Crafting your website to be ADA compliant shouldn’t be a decision you make just to avoid lawsuits. ADA compliance can also have a long-lasting positive impact on your business and your relationship with the community.
By encouraging a large group of potential new customers to visit your establishment, ADA compliance can grow your business. Being proactive about these concerns can build a positive reputation for you within your community.
A thoroughly accessible business greatly expands your establishment’s appeal – not only to potential customers with disabilities, but to the community as a whole. An accessible work environment will ensure you connect better with employees and potential employees as well as your customer base.
Now, all of this information may seem rather daunting, especially if you are new to the world of ADA compliance. But you don’t have to go it alone: here’s how Fisherman can help.
Fisherman offers various levels of ADA Compliance depending on your needs and plan type. For all of our customers, we implement baseline Accessibility and offer guidance for how website visitors can get in touch with us with any feedback.
Pro tier customers gain access to an accessibility widget to help visitors navigate your website much more easily. We also offer an ADA compliance add-on that runs reports to score our websites’ accessibility standards. This add-on can automatically implement improvements in real time and can even provide legal support in the unlikely event of an ADA-related lawsuit.
Reach out to our Customer Success team at email@example.com to learn more!